How To Care For Norfolk Island Pine – Araucaria

Let’s look at a seasonal indoor plant – the Norfolk pine, care to guess if its really a pine tree? Many people think of only the poinsettia as the primary “Christmas season” plant.

The Araucaria, is known more commonly as the Norfolk Island pine tree. But the Araucaria is not a pine at all, but a member of a small family called Araucariaceae.



The Norfolk pine tree has common names of star pine, triangle tree, or the living Christmas tree mainly because of its symmetrical shape as a sapling. However, it does not really belong to the pine tree category and they’re not good for a winter setting.

Norfolk pine trees grow up to 213 feet with vertical trunks and symmetrical branches. The plant loves direct sunlight, a tropical climate and requires a well-drained soil. Although they look like pine trees, they don’t survive hardiness zones with cold climate. As much as possible, owners should provide a place with high humidity and a shelter from winter.

Where Did the Common Name  “Norfolk Island Pine” Come From?

The tree’s native habitat is Norfolk Island in the South Pacific. There are about 15 species, but only Araucaria heterophylla is grown for indoor use.

It’s one of the few conifers that will tolerate lower light conditions. When plants are grown under low light they have a tendency to droop.

Most of the Norfolk’s grown today range in container size from 4 to 10 inches with a small amount of larger sizes produced. They are generally planted as multiples of 3 plants per pot which makes for a fuller and wider plant, but a single straight plant is very attractive.

Norfolk Island Pine Trees As A Seasonal Indoor Plant

Why talk about this seasonal house plant?

Well, during the holidays is when you will find Norfolk Pine trees at their best. They make for small, very attractive potted Christmas trees. Many growers have done all the work for you by decorating the houseplants with red ribbons, foil and even ornaments.

Araucaria can be grown from cuttings. I remember about 30 years ago a nursery in Hawaii where you could order a large 6-8 foot rooted plant and have it shipped directly to you. Today most plants are grown from seed.

Most of the Norfolk Pine trees grown indoors are grown out in full sun. This produces a compact plant but has a tendency to be a little pale in color. Once plants reach their desired feet or height they are moved into more shade to color up.

No Pest Problems

A real upside to Norfolk island pine care is they do not have any real pest problems. If I see pest I go with a natural pest solution.

But the downside is… they have a weak root system.

Many foliage plants have an abundance of roots with no main tap root. The Norfolk has a main tap root and just does not develop a wide and extensive root system.

For this reason it is important to keep the plant stable and prevent any extra “wobble”.

After going through sometimes stressful shipping, plants may need to be staked or even restaked. This will help keep them upright and also stabilize any movement which could injure the root system.

Many foliage plants also drop leaves when they experience stress. However, the Norfolk generally does not drop leaves when under stress.

Watering & Repotting

It’s best to keep the soil on the dry side, but when you water… the water thoroughly drains off any excess water. Do not let the plant sit in water. Overwatering can cause root rot and everything is downhill from there on. Provide the Norfolk island pine tree with a well-drained soil.

I would also recommend staying away from repotting the Norfolk. The root system can be damaged in the repotting process, extra moisture will be held in the soil, and the plant may be planted too deep. Repotting all leads to root problems.

I cannot stress the importance of caring for the root system on the Norfolk to be successful… but it’s not difficult.

  • Do not repot
  • Do not fertilize
  • Stake the plant
  • Keep the soil on the dry side
  • Give the plant as much bright light as possible